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From Facebook to Amazon to Waze, artificial intelligence, or AI, is changing the way we use and interact with technology. It’s also transforming customer service. Comcast announced earlier this year that AI and machine learning will be a priority in developing their next-gen customer care program. Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson commented during the Cable-Tec Expo in Denver that the provider hosted an AI demo day during the summer, and that “if there’s ever an industry that’s primed and could benefit from taking data and making it available to agents and customers, it’s ours. I think it’s really going to change the customer experience, profoundly.” Amdocs, a global software and services provider for communications and media companies, is a leader in developing AI for customer relationships. The company identifies ways that service providers can take AI to the next level, and has been hard at work to ensure that customer service transformation will take place in the next few years.
“The whole drive towards intelligence, when it started to get service providers' attention, was about a year and a half ago when Facebook announced their [chatbot support to the Messenger platform], and we started to see a real drive around what the role of AI was in that context, and how to communicate with customers through a nonhuman interface, and meet them through their channel of choice,” said Shannon Bell, vice president and head of product management strategy at Amdocs. This is when many companies, though they had already dipped into AI, started to really focus the experimentation and implementation around the customer experience.
Right now, the typical AI experience might start out with a customer chatting with a bot from the company’s website, but once it gets past simple requests and into more complex and deeper conversations, the customer gets transitioned to a human voice at the main call center. "Say I ask a question about my data usage. The bot needs to be able to interpret and deal with these types of requests," said Bell, with the goal also being to deflect calls from the call center. While some requests are always better handled through human interaction, such as when closing a deal, AI can make a customer service experience all the more efficient, and ultimately help with overall productivity.
"The technology is maturing quickly. But the issue is around continuing to train the intelligence," said Bell. Most service providers have an intelligence-driven strategy, and are working with AI technology in some parts of their business. Bell also emphasized that technology is no longer a hurdle for most customers. Meaning, it's not about getting them on board with AI, but about enhancing the experience they already have. Investments are currently underway to enable AI agents to be able to detect emotions in customers’ voices, that could help bots to understand cues and when to recommend certain services, products or packages that the customer might be looking for, something that humans are trained to do at call centers. “The chatbot needs to be able to understand what the customer is asking for,” said Bell.
In a recent study where they surveyed 7,000 customers of various communications service providers, Amdocs found that customers are looking for more personalized experiences with bots, as well as more comprehensive information. Another interesting stat that came out was that customers prefer to see human-like images when interacting with bots rather than avatar icons. Speed and convenience is a huge pro, but the majority (83 percent) said that if offered a choice, they would prefer to speak directly to a human who could better understand their needs and who could address multiple questions at once. The study concluded that three obstacles to overcome with AI include bots being able to handle complex requests, deliver personalized offers, and having the capability to understand human emotions.
“When we talk to operators, the vision is that all interactions will eventually be handled by AI and chatbots,” explained Bell. “But they will make a business decision about which interactions they want humans to handle.” The goal for many is for customers to interact with chatbots, and for the chatbot to be able to detect once the customer is interested in purchasing a product or service. Once that detection happens, the customer would be seamlessly transitioned to a human at the call center. “The call center isn’t going away,” said Bell.
“And the important thing isn’t necessarily that you have a chatbot on a website, but that you have an intelligence-enabled business,” added Bell. Ultimately, it’s about generating a more efficient and smarter business, and giving customers what they want, which is speedy responses and personalized interactions. And according to Bell, efforts are underway by service providers to train the intelligence to enhance the customer service experience.
According to the survey commissioned by Amdocs, 85 percent of customer service experiences by communications service providers will be handled by AI in the next five years.